Friday, July 28, 2023

The View On Pop Culture: Trey Anastasio, Asie Payton, Bruce Springsteen (2002)

Trey Anastasio's Trey Anastasio

I’ve never been the biggest Phish “phan” on the block, but these critical ears of mine can certainly appreciate the popular jam band’s chops. Anybody who can steal the Grateful Dead’s shtick and update it for a modern audience gets at least a B+ in my gradebook anyway. If you carefully dissect the Vermont foursome’s extensive catalog of songs, you’ll hear influences every bit as diverse as those shown by Jerry Garcia and crew over the Dead’s thirty year lifespan. Thus it should come to no surprise that for his second proper solo album, Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio mixes up the recipe even further, sounding not a lick like the band he fronts, but not really sounding like anybody else out there on the pop music landscape, either.
Trey Anastasio (Elektra Records), the album, is a fine showcase for Anastasio’s wide-ranging talents. The self-titled solo turn provides the critically acclaimed guitarist a chance to experiment with new styles, to take his playing into new directions, and Anastasio lives up to the challenge. The dozen tracks here provide a veritable musical playground for the listener to enjoy. “Push On ‘Til Day” serves up a brassy, big band sound upon which Anastasio layers his nimble-fingered leads while “Night Speaks To A Woman” offers a dark, funky, seventies-styled groove. “Mr. Completely” pairs swirling, psychedelic riffs with some interesting vocal gymnastics and “Ray Dawn Balloon” is a gentle, pastoral exercise in instrumental virtuosity. On the opening track, “Alive Again,” Anastasio sings above the infectious island rhythms, “summer is coming and I’d like a review.” Well, here it is Trey – this is one album well worth your investment of time and money, something intelligent to listen to for a change.

Asie Payton's Just Do Me Right
Asie Payton
was a classic Mississippi bluesman, but he never really pursued a career in the blues. The Holly Ridge, Mississippi native worked on his farm for sixty years, seemingly more comfortable riding a tractor than in touring or recording. He would play for friends or occasionally perform at fellow bluesman Junior Kimbrough’s juke joint, but he didn’t seek fame and fortune. The folks at Fat Possum Records managed to get two sessions out of the elusive Payton before he died in 1997, released in 1999 as the Worried album. Now they’ve managed to piece together a rock-solid collection of individual performances for Just Do Me Right (Fat Possum Records), which cements Payton’s reputation as an original and dynamic performer.

Using low-fi recordings made in Payton’s home, some of the tracks have instrumentation added to Payton’s soulful vocals and stinging six-string work. Purists might argue that such mucking around with the original performances dilutes the energy of the music, but personally I feel that the addition of such minimal flourishes as found on Just Do Me Right does nothing to subtract from Payton’s brilliance. A traditionally oriented blues player, Payton drew from a number of sources and influences including Charley Patton and Robert Johnson, but in spite of his geographical proximity to North Mississippi Hill Country artists such as Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside, he sounds nothing like them. Instead, Payton brings a sort of primitive funk to his material, a syncopated sound and ethereal ambiance that defines songs like “You Got Me Doin’ Things” or “Lose My Happy Home.” Just Do Me Right proves that Payton was a unique and talented artist. Although not very well known by the blues community, Asie Payton nevertheless deserves a wider consideration of his legacy.

When fans heard that Bruce Springsteen was getting the E Street Band back together for an extended tour that would run across 2000 and 2001, excitement was rampant as rumors of set lists and performance dates skittered across the Internet like so many madcap snipe. The successful tour and its accompanying album have come and gone from the pop consciousness, but the recently-released Live In New York City (Columbia Music Video) double-DVD set should make fans sit up and take notice once again. Filmed during the last two nights of Springsteen’s triumphant sold-out ten-night stand at Madison Square Garden for an HBO cable special, the DVD set provides viewers with a front row seat to one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll shows they’ll ever see.

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band's Live In New York City
Live In New York City
’s first disc features fourteen performances from the two nights filmed while the second disc offers up eleven songs never shown on the cable broadcast. Playing with a fury and a passion twice that of rockers half their age, Springsteen and the E Street Band relive their professional childhood with electric performances of classic cuts like “The River,” “Atlantic City,” “Born To Run” and “Jungleland.” Showing why he was chosen to fill “Miami” Steve Van Zandt’s rather considerable shoes in the first place, guitarist Nils Lofgren rips through a solo at the end of the haunting “Youngstown” that will make your hair stand up on end.

The rest of the old gang is here, too, with “Mighty” Max Weinberg drumming faster and louder than a bus full of clowns, Van Zandt holding up the bottom end on rhythm guitar and the “Big Man,” Clarence Clemons, providing musical and spiritual support. As good as the reunited E Street Band is; however, it is Springsteen’s talents as a performer that captivates audiences. One of rock’s most charismatic performers, Springsteen holds the audience in his hand from the first drumbeat through the last ringing riff. This is pure, undiluted rock ‘n’ roll, Live In New York City a performance primer for young artists who want to see how it is done by the big boys. (View From The Hill, May 2002)

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